Willful stupidity and a 20-pound EZ curl bar

"I have a feeling we'll be getting "train wrecks from the gym" as often as we get "train wrecks from IM'ing" here soon." - Kat

Dear God. I'm supposed to be cooling down, prepping my lunch, and contemplating errands, but right now I'm sitting here unable to do anything besides laugh and shake my head in horror. I can only describe this morning's workout as somewhere between a Lewis Black comedy special and a train wreck.

I say that it's a wonder that I didn't fall off the elliptical machine with laughter, but that's not the truth; it's far more of a wonder that I didn't get off the elliptical machine, walk across the room, and attempt to beat the stupidity out of a few fellow gym members with the nearest available barbell.

(I have fantasies about taking a 20-pound EZ curl bar to the heads of the idiotic. It's not homicidal mania; that's scheduled for tomorrow, when I go to three sets. This is my far-more-standard intolerance of willful idiocy.)

I like my little rituals when I go to the gym. Every day, the same thing. Stop the car, pick up the iPod and my water bottle. Lock the car, scan in, hang up my keys. Walk to the water fountain. Empty out and re-fill my water bottle. Pick out my elliptical machine for the day. Set my water bottle on the right side and the iPod on the left. Untwist the headphone cord, start the iPod, program the machine, and go to town.

Not today.

They were talking by the treadmills as I started setting up my machine. Sure, I listened. Everyone does. (The sooner you accept this, the sooner you'll stop caring.) Normally it's inane chatter with little interest to outsiders - errands, kid stories, pet stories, work troubles.

They were two women, both dark-haired and possibly related. One, judging by her face, probably liked to claim late 40s but was probably in her early 50s. The other was much younger, likely younger than me, making her mid-twenties at the most.

She listened very intently to the older woman, who was apparently showing her the ropes: "Now, here's what you need to do. Figure out how far you want to walk, then get on the treadmill. Give yourself about five minutes to warm up, then pick a level to work at today. Be sure to give yourself five minutes to cool down at the end."

To which point, my only thought was, You have got to be kidding me.

Isn't this supposed to be cardiovascular work? Shouldn't you be, oh, I dunno, monitoring the muscle you're trying to work here? Does the phrase "target heart range" mean anything to you?

Ten minutes later, they moved to the elliptical machines where the older woman did not show her friend how to set levels or workout programs on the machine, thus neatly managing to avoid getting the most benefit out of her workout. I had managed to keep a blank, disinterested stare (as opposed to my intent, fully-perked ears) so far, but planned to say nothing. At that point, there was nothing I could say that wouldn't have been intrusive, but I really wanted to tell her that if she wanted to see any kind of cardiovascular benefit, she needed to walk a lot longer than ten minutes.

I watched TV. Ah, CNN. I almost managed to tune them out, but slowly their conversation worked its way back into my consciousness, as the younger woman said to her friend, "Can you show me how to work the weight machines?"

"Yeah, I guess. I only know how to work a few of them, though."

I decided to speak up: "You know that they have a trainer here, right? You ought to consider setting up a meeting with her."

The older woman looked over to me and said, "Oh, I don't wanna do that. I heard she makes you write down everything you eat in a log, and I just don't want to do that. I heard she makes you give up stuff like Diet Cokes. I know I don't always eat that well, but I guess you have to make lots of sacrifices if you want to ...." - here, she paused delicately, as many old-school Southern women will do when discussing matters of weight - " ... lose."

I opened my mouth to rebut her statement. I've been at this five weeks now, and I know firsthand that Laura doesn't ask you to 'write everything you eat down in a log.' Quite the opposite; she tells you to eat healthily, but doesn't get specific unless you ask her to. The only list Jeff, Kat, or I have seen is the list of weight training exercises she has us do three times a week.

But my thoughts were slow, and she kept talking.

"I've been coming here for a while now, and I just don't seem to be losing any weight." She sighed, shrugged, and said, "I guess I'm just going to be fat and fit for the rest of my life."

I honestly thought I was going to have to get of the elliptical and administer a very medieval ass-kicking. At least I managed to not blurt out the topmost thought in my mind: "Well, I dunno about you, but if I'm going to work out every day, I want to do everything possible to make sure that I'm not wasting my time."

I wanted to just beat her with that statement - "you are wasting your time!" - but didn't.
Then I wanted to turn to her friend and say, "If you're going to ask a friend to show you how to work out, at least ask a friend who is having some kind of success in her workouts!"


Am I missing something here? Something obvious? I see workouts like any sport, or any specialized activity involving machinery that's new to me. I'm not going to get started without first seeking advice and training from someone with more skills and knowledge than myself, and if I was having a problem, I certainly wouldn't sweat and bitch about it while making no changes to improve results.

It strikes me as logical and sensible that if I were working out and not seeing results, the first thing to do would be to seek the advice and counsel of a professional.

She got off the elliptical machine five minutes later and started showing her younger friend how to use some of the machines. I turned my iPod and watched them with a Sasha and Deep Dish soundtrack. It was such a train wreck. I couldn't look away.

I couldn't hear what they said, but I didn't need to. The ellipticals are on a raised platform, so those people working out on them can see most of the machines in the gym. On machine after machine, I watched the woman guide her friend through using the machines with weights that were obviously far too low. There was no struggle and no sweat on the part of the younger woman.

"If you're doing ten reps, you should be feeling the burn by the eighth or ninth rep, and the tenth should be a struggle. You're trying to work the muscle to fatigue. Fatigue isn't permanent. Do it right, and push the muscle exactly to its limit and no farther, and in a couple of minutes you'll be fine." - Laura-the-trainer

At the end of forty-five minutes, I'd completed my first workout for the day. (I'll return later tonight for Laura's Thursday night class, which no longer hurts and I'm actually looking forward to now.) I got off the machine and walked past the two women, who were still walking from machine to machine, using them at such low weights that they were guaranteed to never see any kind of benefit from their time spent.

All I needed was a 20-pound EZ curl bar and about ten uninterrupted, unobserved seconds.

* * * * *

One of the things I feared most when I first started working out was the fact that other people could see me. See me strain. See me fight through reps. See me break sets apart, breathe breathe breathe, then struggle through and finish. Yeah, I look like an idiot when I do it, but so does everyone else, no matter their fitness level. Working muscles to fatigue is - as the word indicates - work. You sweat. You turn red. You make funny faces...and, if you're really there to work out, eventually you stop watching others and start making those same faces yourself.

But there's a fine line between promising yourself you'll never ridicule someone who is obviously new (because we were all new at some point) and being appalled at the amazing capabilities some people have for willful ignorance, even when offered knowledge and help.

When I was on the elliptical machine, before the two women moved to the weights machines, I offered to help them. "I'm going to be on this machine," I said, pointing to the elliptical, "for about another thirty minutes; if you're willing to wait a little while, I'd be happy to help you out with the machines I'm familiar with."

They thanked me, and declined.

I didn't know who I felt sorrier for. The older woman, who was willing to come to the gym every day, but not willing to make the other lifestyle changes (or ask for the professional help) needed to achieve her goals? Or the younger woman, who obviously didn't know any better, and who had no idea that virtually every instruction she was receiving was wrong?

I stand by my earlier thought. If I'm going to devote between one and two hours of each day to gym work, I want to do everything possible to ensure that I am not wasting my time.

Jeff had a point, though: "If they want to pay gym fees and only use the machines for a few minutes each day, well, that money goes to help pay for upkeep and nifty new machines that we will use. I hate it for them, but it's a bonus for us."

Silly, practical engineers.

Currently in winamp...

My new mix CD for tonight's class:

Moby - Go

Sander Kleinenberg - My Lexicon

Minogue, Kylie - Can't Get You Out Of My Head

Michael, George - Fastlove

Daft Punk - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Laura's going to fall over laughing when she hears this)

BT - Godspeed

BT - Madskillz-Mic Chekka

Sasha - Xpander

MacIsaac, Ashley - Sleepy Maggie


As with many things, you can't really help people when they're apathetic about an activity. There are many people like this; sometimes I'm one of them. If they really wanted to make a change for their lives, they would be more serious about it. It's much easier to do it half-assed and complain than it is to get up and ask for help. In this instance, you're one of the lucky ones.

Sadly it is a better situation using not enough weight than using too much. I cannot tell you how many times I saw people come microseconds from serious injury from the following statement "I am strong...and I will show you how strong...throw 4 more plates on" That kind of stupidity is what gives us the Darwin Awards every year. As far as your bless-your-hearts' go...let them think that they are actually achieving something of substance and continue to laugh to yourself. You are right...their dues are paying for your upkeep. It's how gyms make money. Maybe bless-your-heart the younger will watch you slyly out of the corner of her eye and actually get a clue. Bless-your-heart the elder is probably beyond hope.

I'd rather start with less weight and do more reps than punish myself by taking on too much at once. I did that the first time I worked out because I had someone who "knew how to do it" show me. I paid for it for more than a week or two. YOur workout style will also depend upon what your attempting to accomplish. If you wanted to be able to do alot of work for a long time, your not going to go for massive reps. Distance runners don't sprint and they sure don't do alot of upperbody workouts. However, if you want to play football you sure as hell are going to be pushing the big irons and doing the sprints. Its all for different goals. Granted, this lady just sounded clueless :)